The Leonardo ATR 72MP: new generation Multirole Maritime Patrol Aircraft

Line of Defence Magazine - Winter 2020

Leonardo ATR 72MP
Leonardo ATR 72MP. Image: Leonardo.

To face to the increasing challenge to protect the security of its wide maritime domain in the Pacific Ocean, the Royal New Zealand Air Force’s air surveillance capability will be significantly increased with the Boeing P-8 Poseidon, one of the very few options for a long range patrolling operations.

Within the Enhanced Maritime Awareness Capability (EMAC) program, the New Zealand Government has the option of scouting solutions to optimise the cost-efficiency of this system, delegating less extended patrolling missions onto smaller, but still capable and cost-effective, aircraft. 

In this category of aircraft is the civil-derivative ATR 72MP, developed by Leonardo of Italy, from the ATR72-600 highly efficient regional turboprop – a technologically advanced maritime patrol aircraft that benefits in many respects from its civil-commercial origin.

A world leader in the market for regional aircraft of up to 90 seats, the ATR is a joint partnership between Airbus and Leonardo. Almost 1,700 of these aircraft have been sold to over 200 operating customers in more than 100 countries, including New Zealand – totalling more than 30 Million flight hours. 

The ATR 42 and 72 aircraft benefit from cost efficiencies delivered by their turboprop engines and high-tech metal and composite manufacture, delivering low operating costs to customer airlines.

Range performance, flexibility, favourable costs and unrivalled support in all geographical areas make this aircraft an ideal solution for Pacific Ocean operators for connections between islands and major regional hubs. Added to this is its comparative capability to land and take off from the widest range of airports in the region.

Air New Zealand is among the most loyal of ATR customers, operating ATR aircraft since 1994. The entry into service of the new fleet of ATR 72-600 enabled the airline to further expand its domestic operations with new destinations and frequencies.

The ATR 72MP is equipped with sensors and mission systems manufactured and integrated by Leonardo. 

The aircraft combines the reliability, maintainability, low life- cycle costs and high crew comfort levels of the commercial ATR 72-600 regional aircraft with a state-of-the-art mission system, advanced sensors and a complete communication suite. The result is an effective and affordable force multiplier, with excellent Command, Control, Communication, Computers, Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (C4ISR) capabilities, which retains ample growth capability.

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The baseline configuration comprises the advanced long range Leonardo Seaspray 7300E electronically-scanned array search radar; FLIR Systems; an Automatic Identification System (AIS) to locate and identify vessels equipped with AIS transponder; and an Airborne Search and Rescue System Direction Finder (ASARS DF).

The mission-specific systems enable all military maritime surveillance tasks: monitoring of sea lanes; fisheries protection; prevention and disruption of activities such as piracy, smuggling, drug trafficking and illegal immigration; Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) patrol; and Search and Rescue (SAR).

The aircraft can also act as a flying command post and double as a capable personnel transport asset when needed. 

The core of the mission suite is Leonardo’s removable ATOS (Airborne Tactical Observation and Surveillance) mission system. 

The ATOS mission system manages a wide range of aircraft sensors. The mission system operator, thanks to the high multirole capacity provided by the Multifunction Operator Console (MOC), can operate with the three main sensors, radar, electro-optical as well as with the ESM (for 360° detection, analysis and identification of any electro-magnetic emitter). 

These can be configured for any tactical/operational mission, as well as to exchange high-speed data and information with command and control centres via advanced Tactical Data Link and satellite communication systems. The system stands out for its net-centric and C4ISR capabilities, which are suitable also for networked operations.

Thanks to its commercial origins, the ATR 72MP delivers its crew levels of ergonomics that increase its efficiency and effectiveness during maritime patrol, search and identification missions, search and rescue operations, which can typically last more than eight hours.

The P-72As – the name given to the aircraft by the Italian Air Force – saw its very first operational deployment in 2017 in support of security implemented for the G7 Head of States summit in Taormina, Italy.

Four new ATR 72MP, in service since 2016 with the Italian Air Force at Sigonella Base in Sicily, are manned by mixed crews from both the Air Force and Navy, assuring constant monitoring of the central Mediterranean Sea. 

Four ATR 72-600s in maritime patrol configuration have also been ordered by the Italian Guardia di Finanza – a law enforcement agency with general jurisdiction over the nation’s coastal and international waters – and are designated P-72B. The first two were handed over to the customer in November 2019, and deliveries will be completed by 2022.

The training process for the aircraft’s crews is one of the aspects for which the ATR origin is beneficial for customers. In the Italian model, for example, pilot training is carried out in two phases. 

In the first phase, the squadron’s pilot, a qualified military pilot, can exploit the ATR Training Centre in Toulouse, and is trained on the civil version, the ATR 72-600. Ground training is carried out with the help of a flight simulator, and flight hours are flown on board a real aircraft. 

The second phase is carried out at Sigonella Air Base, where the 41° Stormo’s 86th Crew Training Centre trains pilots who will fly the aircraft. A theoretical component followed by a practical component on the aircraft itself.

In addition to typical military ISR tasks, the ATR 72 MP can fulfil a broad spectrum of requirements, thanks to its exceptional re-configuration capability. The cabin can be easily reconfigured in a range of layouts (MEDEVAC, passengers transport, cargo transport) dedicated to a specific task and duly certified. This provides the aircraft with unparalleled flexibility, greatly expanding its mission portfolio.

Recently the ATR 72MP confirmed its multimission capability during support to Italian populations hit by the Covid-19 pandemic emergency when the flexible cabin reconfiguration allowed the transport of medical operators and materials and the performance of MEDEVAC operations involving special biocontainment stretchers.

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